–Less than 10 percent of residents from Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture, have returned to the town in the year since its designation as an emergency evacuation preparation zone was lifted.
Although most of the town’s basic infrastructure has been repaired and decontamination work is progressing, only 505 of the town’s 5,300 residents had come back as of Friday.
Hirono was one of five municipalities within a 30-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that were designated as emergency evacuation preparation zones after the nuclear crisis began.
The only supermarket in the town is about 300 meters northeast of JR Hirono Station. The supermarket parking lot is often filled with about 100 trucks and vans of companies doing work at the nuclear power plant. About 50 employees of these companies work at long desks on the store’s first floor, which used to be a sales floor.
The supermarket’s operator has evacuated outside the prefecture and reportedly has no intention of reopening the store. Currently, the supermarket is used as offices for companies involved in work at the nuclear plant.
According to Hirono’s commerce and industry association, of the 156 businesses in the town before the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, 104, or about 70 percent, have reopened their doors. These businesses are mainly accommodation facilities, construction-related companies and restaurants.
However, a senior member of the association said this has not been enough to encourage more residents to return.
“Doctors haven’t returned and the supermarket hasn’t reopened,” he said. “Many residents think it’s more convenient living in the places they evacuated to. The town has changed a lot.”
On March 13, 2011, the town government issued evacuation instructions on its own initiative. The town office’s functions were moved to the neighboring city of Iwaki, and a majority of the residents evacuated outside the town.
The office resumed its functions in its original town office in March. The decontamination of public facilities, including schools, was finished by August.
Classes at primary and middle schools and kindergartens resumed from the second term. More than 80 percent of the town’s 2,500 houses have been decontaminated. The sewerage system is working again, albeit on a makeshift scale.
There is enough infrastructure in place and decontamination has progressed to the point where people can live their daily lives normally. However, residents have been slow to return.
“Many residents feel uneasy and think the crisis hasn’t been resolved yet, as many workers from the nuclear plant come and go from the town,” Deputy Mayor Koki Kuroda said.
According to a survey conducted by the Hirono government between June and August, prefabricated buildings, rented offices and accommodation facilities related to the nuclear plant and restoration work, including decontamination, are located in at least 35 places in the town. Each day, about 4,900 workers enter and leave the town.
The town government plans to concentrate these business and accommodation facilities in areas away from residential areas for townspeople.
A 70-year-old izakaya operator, who reopened his pub in front of the station after the sewage system temporarily resumed in July last year, said, “Many people are working hard to restore our town, so I’ll do my best here.”
According to the plan it submitted to the central government, the town hopes all residents will return by the end of this year. The town plans to hold a briefing session as early as this month to encourage more people to return.
(Oct. 1, 2012)